Mental Note: An EEG musical instrument


Hunter Scott, a student at Georgia Tech, discovered a serial out on a Star Wars Force Trainer EEG toy, so he decided to make it into a musical instrument. When activated, the electroencephalography-driven toy plays a variety of samples depending the readings from the alpha and beta brainwaves.

Mental Note is the name I gave to a project that I made for Yahoo HackU 2010. They come to Georgia Tech every year, and I thought it would be fun to compete. I was trying to come up with something, and I knew I wanted to do a hardware hack since I am not a CS major and a lot of the people who compete are like 3rd and 4th year CS majors (I was a 2nd year computer engineer). The competition was on Friday, and the Monday before, I started trying to come up with an idea. I remembered seeing the Star Wars Force Trainer when it came out and I really wanted to do something with it. Someone had done some work on reverse engineering the hardware and had found that the head piece used 3 contacts with the head to take an EEG. Then it sent the data wirelessly over a regular RF connection somewhere in the 2.4 GHz range. But most importantly, it turns out that there are header pins that were left in from testing and one of the pins gives a serial out! So it’s really easy to interface with. That means you can control anything with your mind. So I started thinking, what would be cool to control with your mind. I thought maybe you could control Google Earth, or maybe update Facebook and Twitter with your mood, or maybe control a simple flash game. But all of those seemed like they might be too hard to control precisely, and they just didn’t seem cool enough. So then I thought about playing certain songs based on your mood. If you felt happy, then play upbeat music, if you feel sad, play sad music. But I was afraid that once you started listening to a song, you would get stuck in that mood and wouldn’t change. And then I realized that it would be way cooler if you could create music. After some more thinking and talking over it with a friend, I came up with Mental Note.

10 thoughts on “Mental Note: An EEG musical instrument

  1. ClockworkRobot says:

    EXCELLENT. I’ve been waiting for the price to drop on these things so I can have a hack too.
    Do you think the thing could run from the headset alone? or is some kind of processing going on inside of the blower unit?

    1. Hunter says:

      There is a small circuit board in the main base station that receives the wireless signal from the headset and processes the sensor data. I left the base station intact because I found it easier to change notes when you can see the ball move up and down. But really the majority of this project is software, and you could easily take the force trainer apart and shove it all in a small project box. You could also probably eliminate using the laptop by using an arduino instead. I guess you’d need a sound shield of some sort though (this would probably work: As for the price of the force trainer, I got it on ebay for about $50 used. Check craigslist too, you get lucky sometimes.

      1. ClockworkRobot says:

        Just snagged one on ebay for £35 :)

        I’m thinking more along the lines of a robotics project although the idea of the brain music is just beautiful.

        You mention the thing can be confused by muscle movements. there’s maybe some fun to be had there. Perhaps repositioning the sensors could get the thing to detect REM sleep and one could construct a device to help trigger lucid dreaming.

      2. ClockworkRobot says:

        Managed to horribly hack up your code and make a rough EEG graphic readout thingy. Could be useful for anyone wanting a graphical representation of what the machine is picking up over time. hope you don’t mind. I’ve scattered a bunch of links there to you. Please feel fre to link back if you think my effort could be remotely useful to anyone else.

        1. Hunter says:

          Nice! I had been wanting to get a graphical readout going since I’ve seen some pretty cool music visualizations done in processing. I linked back to your site as well. I’m working on a newer version of the code that will (hopefully) let you go note by note rather than play samples. Anyway, I’m glad you’re having fun with this thing too.

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My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal

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